Tip for the Trail – Getting Lost – Xterra – 3-25-2011

By Rachel Cieslewicz

published by Xterra 3/25/2011

If I am pro at anything, it is getting lost. I have been lost driving, running, skiing, hiking, cycling, and swimming. Multiple times. To this day, it is a known fact I need my own personal tracking device.  Luckily, the dozens of “lost stories” all eventually ended well and make for some funny stories now that they are over.  However, no lost situation is fun in the moment and not every “lost” story ends well.

Throughout my running adventures, I have learned many lessons about how to not get lost in the first place, and what to do if it happens.

When heading out of town, take time before you leave to have addresses and a map of everywhere you are going. This includes race sites, host hotels, a restaurant you want to try, etc. Even if you have a GPS, do this!  On a recent trip I only took the time to load the location into my phone GPS. The race was so far out there, I lost cell service, had no internet connection, and drove an extra three hours before a local savior in a tiny town finally helped me find my way.  Be prepared and you will get to save all of your adventure time at your destination instead of panicking in the middle of nowhere.

When you successfully make it to your running destination, more planning will pay off.  To begin, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to be back. If you are running on a trail or in a new place in general, the best plan is to have someone familiar with the area with you. If this is not possible, again bring a GPS or a map and compass to help you find your way.  Sometimes well-known trails are marked. Even if they are, missing a turn, coming to a fork, or simply getting caught up in the scenery can lead you astray.  Also, forgetting time and attention to landmarks can lead to an unplanned night sitting on a rock.  Trust me. That option is not fun!

If you do get lost, here are some things to consider. First, stop and pay attention to where you are. Listen for sounds of motors, etc. Even though you are “out there” you may not be as far away as you think. Stay calm and try back-tracking. If that doesn’t help, check if you have cell service. No? Look around for landmarks, foot prints, etc., that will help you find your way back to where you thought you wanted to be.  Last resort, check out your map and figure out a safe way to make it to the nearest road. Being found on a road is easier than picking out a person among the trees and hills. Regardless, if you are going into unfamiliar terrain, be sure to have a small pack with calories and water, a headlamp, light and warm clothing, a cell phone, and some cash.

Sometimes, even racing on trails can create some interesting twists. Trail racing brings a great balance of fun, awareness, quick smart steps, and getting out there to experience life to its fullest. But in a race situation, it is also possible to lose the trail. Often, it comes down to forgetting to focus on markers, blindly following another “lost” runner, or simply poor markings that get us turned around. With the clock ticking, we may be prone to more mistakes.  But again, this doesn’t have to happen.

If possible and allowed, try pre-running the course to become familiar with it a week or so before your big event. For many this isn’t practical. The best approach to staying on course is to attend the pre-race briefing. Here you will learn what the markings look like, any confusing areas and how to navigate them, as well as an overview of the course. If you do get lost stay calm, back track, and you will find yourself in the mix of runners soon.  This way you will be pleased to happily run your desired race without adding on an extra, unplanned marathon!

Rachel Cieslewicz is an elite runner and triathlete based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She placed fifth at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in December at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii. She is a talented sports massage therapist, Pilates and yoga instructor and is a certified running form coach. She can be reached atrcanyon1@gmail.com  or visit her website atwww.newageathlete.comor follow her onwww.twitter.com/newageathlete